When Val returned to her hotel room, she went first to her nightstand to find the gun.
It was in there on top of the bible, matte grey, the slide back. A loaded magazine was propped against the book and eight additional bullets bounced and rolled within as she hauled the drawer open. She looked down at the gun, breathing hard. She blinked. Instantly calmer just looking at it.
She closed her eyes. Remember what you are. Look at it, and remember. You are just an instrument. You don’t need to be afraid. You don’t need to be guilty.
That mantra settled her nerves, as it always did. Slowly, she reached in and picked up the gun. Then she slid the magazine in and pocketed the extra bullets and shut the drawer with her knee. She put the gun in her belt and went out into the night air. She went down the harbour-front and found the fisherman she had paid that morning in American dollars. He took her out on the water in his boat and they went out beneath the Bosporus bridge, the moon and stars shimmering upon the black water. As the fisherman looked at her, Val lifted an eyebrow. She showed him the gun and spun it once on her finger before sitting cross-legged with her back against the gunwale.
The man shrugged wearily. “You want money back?”
She closed her eyes and set her head back. She lifted it and pressed the cool of the slide to her forehead, her lips.
It was the gun El Vidente had given her. The M1911 he had used to kill her mother.
Long after the helicopter had left them, Val had knelt weeping with Julia’s head cradled in her arms. Stained with her blood. She still held the gun, smoking, hot. When she had fallen asleep, her father had done the only strong thing he’d ever done and carried her inside. Then he had buried Julia. He’d been unable to take the gun from her. She had awoken the next morning with it clenched in her fist, on her soft sheets. With sleep still encrusting her eyes and dreams slowly receding, she blinked at the gun.
She uncurled the fingers of her other hand and let fall upon her pillow the other thing she had scraped up from the road. Amid a dusting of sand, the brass shell-casing. She looked at it for a long time, there on her white pillow, wondering what it was for. She picked it up between thumb and forefinger and sniffed it. She put it in the front of the handgun and tilted it back, hearing it clink inside the weapon. Then she tilted the gun forwards again and the casing slid out. She thought about that for a long time.
She didn’t know where her father was. She knelt on the floor of her room, clearing the rug aside, and put the gun down, the shell-casing standing next to it. Sitting cross-legged, she stared down at it for a long while before starting to play with it as if it was a toy. She didn’t have any tools with which to take it apart, but she found she could use the rim of the shell-casing to turn the screws in the handle. She worked with the gun for hours, ceaselessly, until morning turned to night. Until she had figured out how to take the whole thing apart. She arranged the pieces from biggest to smallest on the floor, down to the last spring, pin and screw. She counted the pieces. There were fifty-two. It was the biggest number she had ever counted to.
She saw how it was an instrument. How each piece served a purpose and how the larger whole, too, was a device made to serve a purpose. There, in her bedroom in Chile, she saw it and caught a first glimmer of the larger machine that had brought this gun to her, which had emptied the brass cartridge into her mother’s head. Which had delivered to her this new life, entirely unlike her old one. What destiny had been hers before was gone. The hammer had already fallen upon her and sent her forever in a new direction. This she saw even then.